Episode 108 | Posted on

Crank Up the Recurring Revenue Using Membership Sites with Mike Morrison

There’s one goal to many customer interactions: make a sale. A sale is considered a success, even if you don’t get repeat business or a referral from your customer. The great thing about membership sites is that making one sale isn’t the ultimate goal. Instead, you can create recurring revenue by essentially selling membership every month.

If you like recurring revenue, you’ll love this conversation with Mike Morrison. Mike is co-founder of Membership Guys and host of the Membership Guys podcast. If you haven’t already heard his podcast, you need to check it out; it’s fantastic! He helps membership site owners master their craft and get more recurring revenue on his site and the Membership Mastermind Facebook group.

In this Episode

  • [01:11] – Mike talks about why someone should have a membership site and what some of the benefits are.
  • [02:58] – Is having a membership site beneficial even if you aren’t an authority or expert on something, and your business is based on e-commerce instead?
  • [06:39] – Mike discusses a subscription-based product based on podcasts and discusses the value that it provides. He and Stephan then dig more deeply into providing value on a membership site in the podcast sphere.
  • [08:52] – Stephan talks about Mike Vardy of Productivityist and how they got to know each other.
  • [12:29] – Mike isn’t a big fan of opening and closing the door to membership sites repeatedly, he explains. He relates this to the New Year’s experience of swarms of new people going to the gym every January and driving away the regulars.
  • [17:28] – It makes sense to do a launch if, for example, you have a live event that goes with the program that only takes place once a year. Mike then relates this perspective to what he has been saying.
  • [20:38] – Mike offers some brilliant words of wisdom: if there’s anything in your marketing that would make your audience unhappy if they found it out, don’t do it.
  • [23:40] – Stephan talks about WP Elevation and Troy Dean, who was on Marketing Speak recently, and touches on why opening and closing membership works in some cases.
  • [25:24] – What are Mike’s thoughts on third-party hosted membership sites as opposed to hosting your own?
  • [27:52] – Other than Memberium, are there other tools that Mike recommends? In his answer, Mike discusses the limitations of these tools as well as offering some great recommendations.
  • [32:56] – Mike discusses where people should go to get help building things out once they’ve settled on their tools and plugins.
  • [36:42] – What does Mike think of WishList Member, aMember, and OptimizePress? In his answer, Mike explores a problem with the WordPress world and the issues with licensing.
  • [41:14] – Mike offers a free plugin comparison chart. You can find that at this link!
  • [42:37] – We hear some of Mike’s best practice tips for a membership site. He emphasizes the importance of a retention strategy.
  • [45:51] – One of Mike’s tips is to implement a Dunning process for handling failed subscription payments.
  • [49:48] – What does Mike recommend for cases when emails your aren’t getting through to customers and members?
  • [52:08] – Mike is using ManyChat for his messenger bot software.
  • [52:56] – We hear Mike’s thoughts on using text messaging as part of his marketing and communication strategy.
  • [55:51] – What are Mike’s favorite episodes of the Membership Guys podcast, and why?
  • [57:22] – Where can listeners go to work with Mike or join his community?


If you like recurring revenue, you are going to love this episode. Today’s guest is Mike Morrison, he’s co-founder of The Membership Guys. He’s also the host of the podcast of the same name, The Membership Guys is a fantastic podcast I’ve been listening to so I was very excited to meet him at Podcast Movement and invite him onto the show. Mike has his own membership site where he helps membership site owners master their craft of getting more recurring revenue and servicing their members. This is Episode 108, let’s go ahead and get started. Mike, welcome to the show.

Thank you so much for having me on, I’m looking forward to this.

Let’s talk about why somebody should even have a membership site, first of all. What are the benefits so that we can then lead into all the different best practices.

I think the thing that draws most people into membership sites is those two little magic words, recurring revenue. That tends to be the primary motivator that a lot of people have rather than working project to project or maybe launching a course two or three times a year where there’s a lot of pressure that goes in. If something goes wrong, if you lose one of those key clients or you have a bad launch, that would be catastrophic. With a membership, it’s far less volatile. You get that nice, accumulating, recurring revenue. That means you’re not starting from zero every month, and that tends to be what draws most people in. Most people who are attracted to memberships understand that there’s some work that goes into it, a membership is just a business model, it’s just a way of serving your audience. If you are creating content, if you are an expert or an authority, if you’re an author, if you’re blogging, podcasting, then this is just a way of taking things a little bit further on that front to serve your audience in a more intimate way. Even when you’ve got memberships where there’s hundreds and thousands of members, the fact that you actually get to hang out with them in a community and have that dialogue with them. I think if you’re someone who is really passionate about your serving your audience in particular, that kind of back and forth that you get in a membership far more than in a course or working with a client for a two or three month project, that can be far more fulfilling as well as being just a great business model for getting that stream of recurring revenue.

Yup, recurring revenue is a very good thing.

It is.

What if you’re not an expert, though? What if you’re just selling widgets, you’re in ecommerce.

You don’t need to be an expert. It’s that kind of thing, it’s all semantics really. I think in this space in online marketing, typically most memberships are authority centric. They usually involve a combination of what’s called 3Cs; content, coaching, community. That’s most memberships in this space. However, you do absolutely have memberships that are certainly more utility based where maybe it’s just a case of there’s 100 widgets, someone joins you for a subscription where they can download 5 widgets a month. Certainly, there’s memberships that come to mind in the fitness industry where a client we’ve worked with in the past had a choreography instruction based membership site where there was just this big library of 200 short training videos. It was a credit based membership where you get 10 download credits a month for a fixed fee and you spend them however you need. That wasn’t necessarily authority centric, it wasn’t even fresh, on going content being delivered, so it’s different from most memberships that come across in this space. It’s certainly still a membership site, still generates recurring revenue, still valuable. If you have an audience with a recurring need and you have a solution that can fulfill that need on a subscription basis, then there’s a potential membership in it.

If you have an audience with a recurring need and you have a solution that can fulfill that need on a subscription basis, then there’s a potential membership in it.

Yeah. Even if you are just trying to move or augment your existing model, cash flow, and trying to get some recurring revenue in the door. Let’s say you’re Apple and you’re selling laptops and the subscription program that you signed up for is actually the Apple Care to make sure that your computer, if it just goes haywire for the next three years, it’s covered. What if you added some additional value on top of that? They give you some software that allows you to check your customer, I could imagine adding a lot more value through a membership site and increasing the likelihood that somebody is going to sign up for that subscription.

Yeah, for sure. If you do have an ecommerce business or you have a product that is still going to be the main stall, the main thing that you do, then supplementary memberships can work very well. If you’re working with clients one on one, you run a webpage, you’re a marketing agency, then let’s say you’re building websites for a client. Usually, that’s kind of it. You can have just a little membership area that you’re ready to offer for free as a value add, as a way of differentiating you from your competitors, where either you provide training or you’re just providing tools and resources, or you’re just going out there and you’re scoring discounts and perks for those members. It’s just a little value add. It doesn’t have to be e-learning and community, it’s just typically in this space, the term membership site which is a term that could apply to something like Netflix or Amazon Prime subscription for premium content. In this space, typically membership site will be e-learning and community. Things like aftercare and stuff like that, it’s still subscription model but it veers into its own kind of thing, a utility based subscription in the same way like you have SaaS and you have productized services. They’re still subscription businesses but you wouldn’t typically call them membership sites.

Great, although you could add components that would add value.

Absolutely. A good friend of mine, Mark Asquith, runs a business with John Lee Dumas called Podcast Websites where their main product is, funny enough, a website for podcasters. It’s a subscription based product. Their big value add is they provide, in that subscriber academy, training, workshops, they have the community, that’s not the paid product they sell, but that is something that they provide that competitors don’t so it helps them.

If you are a podcaster and you want to do a paid model, get people to pay you every month like through Patreon, you could add a membership site or components of what you’d expect in a membership site to your value proposition and increase the likelihood that somebody’s going to sign up and pay for your content, your awesome podcast content.

Yeah, absolutely. It’s funny you mention Patreon, they are making huge strides in just the last year or so in terms of the tools that they provide content creators and podcasters to essentially build a membership site through their platform. One that is based on contribution levels is very, very interesting, especially I think with podcasting because if you have a fandom based podcast, there’s not really a great deal that you might be able to create in terms of content that might go inside a membership site. You have a podcast that’s based around Game of Thrones, what can you create? You can’t create e-learning unless you want to teach people Dothraki, in which case even then you might come up against licensing issues. Things like Patreon which still gives you another option of monetizing that content I think is great for podcasters. It kind of solves that dilemma that you often have where a traditional membership website might not be accessible even if just for logical reasons. Patreon is making huge strides.

They are. I don’t know if you know Mike Vardy…

Productivity, yes, I love Mike. I’m seeing him in a couple of weeks.

He’s actually become a friend. It all started because I signed up with Patreon on his podcast. At a certain level, you get free coaching every month, one session. I signed up and got that. That’s been fantastic. It’s not free, I consider it part of the value proposition. That’s the main reason why I’m doing the Patreon level so that I can get the coaching because it’s really good, it’s really valuable.

Having that channel as a content creator, that reduces the barriers to start moving towards a membership based business because it’s just such a great way of being able to test the waters initially, test the demand, because that’s one of the biggest mistakes so many people make with membership sites, they don’t validate, A, that there is an audience who has a problem, B, that their solution or the way in which they want to serve them is the right fit, and C, that even if the problem solution equation fits up that didn’t compel someone to actually pay for it. You can use something like Patreon certainly in the way that Mike has and you go to the guys like Jonathan Oakes of Trivial Warfare which would be a trickier proposition to monetize with a membership if not for things like Patreon. I think it’s, especially with podcasters, this is a very good way of easily validating the potential in monetizing your content with a subscription.

Yup, I agree. Speaking of Mike Vardy, there was a great episode where I interviewed him on my other podcast, Get Yourself Optimized. That episode is number 18 and it is awesome. I’m a big fan of Mike’s and of productivity in general, of course. I’m a big geek when it comes to that stuff.

I always feel guilty anytime I talk to Mike because I’m not really tuned on with being productive and having a good handle on that. He always makes me feel—not deliberately—a little inferior. He has his stuff together on that front. Yeah, he’s actually coming across to London for an event in two weeks time where I’m going to be speaking. He’s going to be turning up, I’m looking forward to feeling inferior a little bit more when we get together.

You might want to work on your imposter syndrome because I think you have your stuff together pretty well. I listened to some of the episodes of your The Membership Guy podcast and you clearly know your stuff and you clearly are executing.

As long as no one sees the chaos behind it all, I’m kidding of course.

Nobody knows how the sausage is made.

This is where having a partner who is actually very well organized comes in handy. He makes sure that we’re actually organized and productive and I just come on and talk to great people like you.

That’s funny. Back to this idea, you got a membership site as a recurring revenue stream and does that fit well with a launch sort of structure? You say that you are following Jeff Walker’s product launch formula system and you’re doing periodic launches, you’ve got JVs, joint venture partners to help you promote it. Is this a good model to augment with a membership site?

I’m not a big fan of opening and then closing the door to membership sites repeatedly, I’m really not a big fan of that. It certainly, for some people, has worked to various degrees. It’s personally not for me. I need to preface this by saying that there are some membership sites where it just makes sense from the perspective of what’s best for the member, the student, as well as what’s best for the delivery of that content. If you have a program where it is beneficial to have everybody enroll at the same time and follow along that program at the same pace, the best way of doing that is by having enrollment periods, cut off dates where you close the door to the public, and then everyone progresses at the same rate. If that’s the best way to serve your members and you deliver that content, great. If it’s in service of the member. If you’re doing it because you want quicker results, or if you’re doing it because you can’t make other marketing tactics work…

If you want to manufacture scarcity, urgency…

Yes, I’m not a fan of that, personally. For various reasons, it’s not just a personal taste. We’ve observed this over years of being involved and countless high growth, high performing memberships where we test this. We’ve tested being open and and closed. First and foremost, while those injections of new members in a short period of time create the appearance that this is a highly effective tactic, when observed over 6, 9, 12 months periods versus having it simply open all of the time for people to enroll as when marketing in a more consistent, organic way. That’s not too great a difference in numbers. The amount of people coming into those launch periods where we’ve tested is has been slightly higher but also the cost of member acquisition has been much higher because those sorts of launches usually involve high commission to your JV partners…

Yup, 50%.

Yeah, minimum. Usually involve ad spend. Usually have a high refund rate because it is relying on pressure and manipulation through that scarcity. The actual effectiveness of that kind of approach as a marketing tactic is questionable when compared to split testing against being open all the time. But one of the main down sides that we tend to see is it plays havoc with a community. If you have a community as part of your membership and possibly one of the biggest assets you can have for a membership is having a community as a forum or a Facebook group, what happens when you close the door is you get that January gym effect where every January, the local gym is packed, all these new comers are in and they’re leaving messes on the machines and they’re not quite figuring out how they’re supposed to set stuff up, they’re leaving the weights all over. The existing regulars at the gym don’t want to go there because all those newbies are around. That happens inside your membership. You got this injection of people there, all amateurs, all asking the same basic, initial questions, and that’s off-putting to your existing members so they don’t turn up. Then what happens to those new guys coming in, they’re asking questions, nobody’s answering it. Everyone else is staying away because it’s like a gym in January. Those people who are just joining never truly get engaged in the community. The people who maybe decide okay, I’m going to duck out for a few weeks, fall out of the habit, fall out of the routine of logging in and taking part. The community dries up. Inside memberships which use this strategy, I’ve seen it myself as a member, we join countless membership sites ourselves just by nature of what we do. Communities in there are typically ghost towns, they really are. For that reason, those who talk about the effectiveness but also just because I’m not one for putting barriers in the way of serving people. If I’m hungry and I stumble across your restaurant and it is very well appointed, the menu sounds and looks delicious, I absolutely want what you’ve got an offer but there’s a sign on your door saying, “Sorry, we’re closed until next week.” I’m not going to come outside your restaurant and starve to death waiting for you to open, I’m going to go down the street and I’m going to eat elsewhere. Same for your membership. If you’re not open and available to satisfy the needs of your customers, they will look elsewhere. They just will.

That makes sense. It also makes sense to sometimes do a launch if for example you have a live event that goes with the program and that’s on a certain date, it’s just once a year and you want to pack the room, you want to deliver for three days maximum value if they join mid-year. That’s not necessarily going to fit with your model of getting them three months into a live event to reinforce what they’ve been learning.

The thing is you can do big promotions and certainly elements of that kind of model which I typically refer to as event based marketing. By saying that, it’s not necessarily limited to just being sent around live events but marketing that sentence around highly concentrated marketing activity, locked up noise over a fixed period of time. That sort of marketing works great, you run all sorts of promotions around that. You can do discount based promotions, bonus based promotions, themed content based promotions, all sorts of stuff, promotions around the forthcoming price increase. By all means, do big promotions. Make lots of noise, utilizing deadlines that are legitimate rather than pretending that you’re running out of space inside a digital product that has absolutely no limitations on space. Still do all that stuff but the whole opening and closing model that usually comes in with this periodic launch, that’s what generally I’m not a big, big fan of. Do all that when you first open, sure, but you don’t have to close your doors in order to tap into urgency and scarcity in your marketing.

Sometimes, if it’s curriculum based and you want somebody following at a certain pace…

If it serves the student, if it serves the member, absolutely. Serving their problems, helping them get to where they want to go, nobody joins a membership site to stand still. They’ve got a goal they want to reach, an outcome they want to achieve, a problem they want to have solved. If what you’re doing is in service of that, please go full on, all power to you. If you’re using cheap marketing tactics and essentially manipulating people into joining, then you will find that is not a great long term strategy because memberships aren’t a one and done sale. Those people, you want them to stick around month on month, year on year. When somebody realizes that they’ve been tricked, that your doors weren’t actually closed, that that wait list or application process you put them through was completely automated and it wouldn’t have mattered what they said, they would’ve gotten their unique to you special invitation to come and join. When they figure that stuff out, they’re not going to feel very good.

Yeah, that’s kind of like these webinars where they are staged to look like they’re live but they’re not. If it’s actually recorded, just say this is pre-recorded, don’t try and fool the prospect.

That’s the thing. If there’s anything you do in your marketing where you have to think to yourself if somebody found out what I’m doing, would they be unhappy, would they be a little bit peeved? Then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. You shouldn’t need to do it, especially with a membership site, because when people figure out that the emperor has no clothes, they’re not going to stick around for much longer. The success of a membership site relies on long term memberships, and that requires a high level of trust and a high level of commitment. You erode that trust, you’re going to end up with a lot of one to two month membership terms.

I love that gut chuck, being able to say to yourself I can sleep at night because I don’t feel like I’m hiding from my prospects certain information. I tell this to my clients and to audiences that I speak to and I’m keynoting and so forth. If you’re doing SEO techniques that you would be embarrassed or uncomfortable sharing with a Google engineer, you’re doing it wrong because you’re playing games, you’re in the realm of the short term, and that’s just going to lead to pain. Unless you have infinite number of domains to churn and burn through, which most people don’t, then that’s a really dangerous strategy.

And it doesn’t last. SEO is the perfect example. I’ve been around the space for a long time and in fact realized—I bought possibly the first edition of The Art of SEO.

That’s a collector’s edition now.

Yeah, from when I was in the agency. It doesn’t last. Those kind of cheap tactics, they burn out. You have things like Jeff Walker with his PLF thing, struggling for the name there. People get so exposed to that that they start to recognize okay, this is a three part video series followed by a page, followed by an open clause. People start recognizing that. You’re relying on your marketing not having been overexposed to these quick fix kind of tactics or these attempts. You’re always trying to look for the next shortcut. That’s exhausting. If you just did it right from the beginning, then you’d get a lot more done. It’s the same for SEO, it’s the same for any form of marketing, it’s the same for growing a membership site. If you just set out to have a great product to authentically market yourself, establish yourself as a credible source, as a brand somebody wants to have deeper involvement with without having to manipulate anything, whether it’s an algorithm or an individual. It’s going to serve you better in the long run. Unless you want to have a churn and burn business, then yeah, just do it properly.

WP Elevation, are you familiar with those guys?

Yeah, Troy.

Yeah, Troy Dean. I just had him on the show here, that’s Episode 104. Listeners, it’s awesome. I really love his business model. He does have open and close periods but it makes sense given the curriculum. It’s kind of like a university where you can’t just show up at Harvard anytime of the year and expect for that to work for you.

Absolutely. It’s all about context. That’s why I always try and get those kind of precursors to my little open clause rant. Something like WP Elevation, this again is where the terminology starts to kind of muddy things up a bit. Open clause and fix term enrollment periods and stuff like that for courses, absolutely. For curriculum, absolutely. But for something that is pretty much just a library of resources where there is no start and end to the product, then yeah, just be open all the time. Can you imagine Netflix only opening for enrollment for two weeks and then you have to join the waitlist until next time? No.

Yeah, that would be silly. I’m curious what your thoughts are on third party hosted membership sites versus hosting your own, have it part of your WordPress install. I use Memberium, I’m also in the process of incorporating Learn Dash into the system as well. I had a third party hosted platform, something like Thinkific, I ended up opting to go the self-hosted approach instead. What’s your take on that?

There’s a bunch of really great cloud based platforms out there for selling courses. Again, this is where the slightest things in courses and membership sites comes in. It’s one of the main differences on the tech grunt. Lots of great platforms, Thinkific is a great course platform, particularly is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, there’s not as much choice for creating membership sites. There’s a few but usually they’re lacking or they’re very, very overpriced. I won’t name the one that immediately jumps to my mind even though they’ve kind of taken off the market a little bit now. The upside of these sort of platforms is they do enable you to get up and running quicker without worrying about the tech. It is the tech where a lot of people do stumble. That comes at a price, literally and figuratively. Not only will you need to keep paying this monthly fee for these platforms versus the upfront cost of just getting your own website, but more importantly, you surrender control of pretty much every aspect of your site when you’re building on rented land. You can’t customize your website beyond the options that that platform developer gives to you. If the servers that their platform are hosted on are slow, you can’t just pack up your website and take it elsewhere. You can’t hire a developer to come in and quote up a new custom feature. In a lot of these platforms, they don’t even let you explore your content or your list so you are fully locked into them, you are building on somebody else’s turf. Whereas building it yourself DIY, we are big fans of WordPress, we love Memberium as well, we love David and the whole team over there, they are awesome. Great, great plugin. We typically do recommend people to go with WordPress, it’s powering 27%, 28% of all websites today, it’s got the largest range of options for creating a membership site. But it is more work to get going, it is harder to figure out what plugin to use. There’s definitely pros and cons but ultimately, I think if you’re intending your membership to be a core part of your business, a key business asset, it’s just not worth surrendering control of the asset to somebody else’s platform.

Yeah, I agree. I use Memberium and you’re a fan, as you said. Are there other tools that you also recommend as far as membership site, WordPress plugins, maybe standalone tools.

Memberium is one of my favorites. Again, if you are using InfusionSoft in particular where the range is a lot more limited, I know there’s maybe three, possibly even four plugins that are suitable for integrating with InfusionSoft versus if you use something like [00:29:21] by AWeber, basically everyone does those because of how basic they are. The best plugin really is kind of like what’s the best car? There are some that are objectively, generally better than others, but if you can’t drive stick or if you need to seat 12 children in the back, then your options narrow down. It’s the same as the membership plugin, really just depends on your specific needs and requirements. Memberium, I love it, but it’s going to be no use if you’re not using an active campaign or InfusionSoft. We use one called Member Press. But again if there’s a specific feature you needed to have in your site, Member Press doesn’t do. It’s possibly going to be bottom of your list. It really does come down—choosing a membership plugin—first and foremost to getting clear on your specific needs and requirements and starting from there. We recommend everyone makes a list with two columns, one side right down your absolute must have features, the stuff you absolutely can’t skip on. That will be things like integration with your email marketing platform, whether that’s InfusionSoft, Active Campaign, Ontraport, integration with your payment processor, these are the things that you’re probably not going to budge on. The other side, you want to write down a list of the nice to haves, the stuff that you’d like or that you want to compromise on, because you will need to compromise when choosing the membership plugin. Nothing you buy off the shelf is going to give you 100% of what you want, 100% the way you want it. You’ll probably need to sacrifice a few bells and whistles for choosing your own membership plugin. This is my round about way of saying that it’s especially impossible to recommend the best membership plugin. I like them all, according to the circumstances and what I need. Outside the membership plugins, personally I like Active Campaign. My first experience with InfusionSoft was back when they really deserved the nickname of ConfusionSoft, I know they’ve improved a lot of things in recent years. That improvement has coincided with us moving away from client work so we haven’t had as much hands on applied use of it. I do like Active Campaign, the tool called Intercom which is great for on-site messaging. That is very useful for things like on-boarding, having a nice little pop up chat bubble on the second or third time a member logs into your website that points him towards a feature, the first time they go into your content library having the pointers, that’s also great for automated engagement emails if someone hasn’t been active on your site for 30 days, it can ping them to say what’s wrong, why don’t you come back, come check this out.

The best plugin really is kind of like what’s the best car? There are some that are objectively, generally better than others, but if you can’t drive stick or if you need to seat 12 children in the back, then your options narrow down. Click To Tweet

Come back!

Yeah, please, please come back. In terms of community side of things, there’s plugins that you can get with WordPress but they’re all very, very basic and most of them slow your website down in a big, big way. I’m thinking of things like BBPress and Buddy Press. My favorite community platform is a non-WordPress platform, it’s called IP Board—I think they call themselves Envision Community Software now. That’s a really great forum software. It doesn’t out of the box integrate with WordPress but you can get a little bridging plugin for $70 that makes them talk to each other and create a seamless experience. I’m not a big fan of Facebook groups for paid memberships, something like IP Board gives you a lot of the functionality you get inside of Facebook groups while also getting rid of the downsides of running a paid community on Facebook.

Yeah, that is called Envision Community now, you’re right.

Yeah, IP Board, pretentious renaming, it’s IP Board.

There are a bunch of different board type solutions. The Bulletin is one that I’ve used many times.

The Bulletin, yeah, that was the cream of the crop years ago as well. I think what happened is a lot of their development team split off and what was left behind didn’t do very good at progressing The Bulletin. Those guys created their own software called XenForo which I would probably put as my number two choice for forum platforms.

Okay, cool. Let’s say that you get some good requirements detailed out in two columns, your must haves and your nice to haves, you’re looking at different software solutions, Memberium Member Press, etc., or if you’re not running WordPress, whatever. And then you want to hire somebody or an agency. You don’t do that anymore, that’s not part of your offering. I’m imagining you get lots of questions from your community asking where do I go to get help to build this out. What’s the answer?

Usually, most of these membership plugin companies will have recommended agencies or developers. If you’ve done your research and you have firmly settled on a specific plugin, speak to those guys. Some of them will have a publicly accessible directory of people they recommend, some go a little further and they have an accreditation process where they will actually assess developers and agencies as to whether they are quality enough to recommend to people. That’s your best place to go because otherwise, if you go to Upwork or if you get a recommendation from somebody, before you have the hammer, every problem looks like a nail. If all you’ve ever worked with is Paid Memberships Pro, every membership site you try and shoe hole that into and as you said before, every plugin has its little differences in terms of features and functionality. If you go for someone who doesn’t have experience in your plugin, the first thing they’ll do is try and talk you out of the decision you have made and researched and try and talk you into using software they’re comfortable with. As much as you can or as much as you’re able to yourself, do your own independent research on which plugin is going to best fit your needs, and then find the developer through the plugin company if possible. Even if they don’t have a publicly accessible list, I think the Memberium guys do have a list of developers. But even if they don’t have one publicly, whoever you go with, they will internally likely have relationships with people and be able to point you in the right direction. That’s probably your best way of making sure that things don’t get muddy because yeah, somebody talks you out of your plugin choice, then…

Because they’re not familiar with it.

Yeah, most of the time—this is a problem, and this is why I’m glad to have spent my time in the web form world and now be free of that one on one stuff because the barrier to entry is so low, so unbelievably low to this industry. It’s a good thing and a bad thing. I’m a self-taught developer going back to the mid-90s. If there were higher barriers to entry, I wouldn’t have been able to get into the space at all. It’s a good thing. But it’s also a bad thing because somebody couldn’t just learn how to drive WordPress, they can learn how to drive DiVi, a page builder, especially now with page builders. Someone with no technical, no design competency, can put together something that looks nice. They can learn how to flick some switches on WishList Member and then go out there and charge you $10,000. You’re not going to know whether the person building that site literally only has competencies in those three or four things or whether if something breaks, they have the development experience to actually know what the hell is broken and know how to fix it. I think just going out there and trying to find web developers in the open market and all that sort of stuff especially in the membership site space which has such a crossover with traditional internet marketing space which can be a SaaS pool. Getting a good recommendation from the developers of the software that you’ve researched and chosen is probably going to save you a lot of heartache and a lot of money.

You mentioned WishList Member, I’m curious what your position is on that one. There’s also AMember, there’s a bunch of these out there.

Yeah, AMember is long in the tooth, so unbelievably long in the tooth. I don’t think it’s been really developed with any—I don’t even know if it’s been developed since the mid-2000s. WishList Member was the second membership plugin ever brought out, but I think they did possibly a better job of marketing themselves than the first membership plugin that hit the scene. While it is definitely showing its age and the certain things that WishList Member does that it does very poorly, it integrates with pretty much everything, and that, in a lot of cases, will make it the best choice for people who have a particularly unusual requirement terms or payment processors. It’s also the one you’ll probably hear about, or certainly going back a few years, these days you tend to hear more about Memberium, Member Press, and so on. WishList used to be the one everyone would talk about because they were quite savvy in terms of JVs, affiliate partnerships, and really saturating that internet marketing space where they have plenty people going out there and obviously spreading the word, making noise.

OptimizePress was another one that did a lot of marketing.

Yeah, OptimizePress is a funny one. Again, I think for them, a lot of it was timing. The first iteration of OptimizePress, when they added their membership plugin which they brought after OptimizePress 2.0 came out, they basically took advantage of GPL licensing which for any listeners not familiar with that, it’s basically anything associated with WordPress technically needs to have a license that allows anybody to take that cord and just redistribute it. Even if you sell a plugin, if it’s GPL license, someone could just take it and give it away. They just can, it’s just part of the licensing, it’s frustrating as hell for a lot of people. What OptimizePress did is they took another plugin called S2 Member that changed the logo, changed the name, and bundled it with OptimizePress. Their plugin, it’s alright but it’s alright because it’s S2 Member, essentially.

That’s a little bit sketchy there, I think.

It is, although it happens all the time. WooCommerce is perhaps everybody’s first choice for WordPress based commerce, they did the same thing. There was a software called Jigoshop which the developers of WooCommerce basically forked it and put their name on it and then went and also hired the majority of the developers from Jigoshop from under their nose and essentially just sunk that company without having to pay them a penny. It’s the WordPress ecosystem and it sucks. The LeadPages guys, this is turning to a different focus altogether. The guys at LeadPages, they took a pop-up plugin that the Divi Team, elegant teams who developed Divi, I think the lead boxes or the popup plugin that they created at Divi, LeadPages took it, changed the logo, gave it away to their customers for free. We had ecosystem-ed the WordPress world.

Yeah. I remember there was a huge to-do about Thesis versus Genesis. A lot of it was I think centered around some sort of controversy about the GPL licensing.

Yeah, the guy who developed Thesis does not like GPL. He refused to classify his stuff under the GPL license, and then Matt Mullenweg who created WordPress, the founder of WordPress, set out on a personal mission to screw that guy over repeatedly. It’s still going out today. Goes to the lengths of WordPress themselves buying thesis.com and then essentially loading that over the guy who built Thesis. It all went accord and it’s just yeah…

If you get tired of politics and all the in fighting there, just go to the WordPress GPL area and you’ll find lots more.

It’s like Game of Thrones with really nerdy programmers.

Yeah, right. That’s funny. Let’s say that you’re having trouble coming up with that must have versus nice to have list or the two lists, do you have any kind of template or tool that helps developing that requirements list?

Yeah, absolutely. We have a plugin comparison chart guide that we have available freely over at themembershipguys.com/plugin-comparison. That breaks down the sort of stuff you need to think about in terms of putting together that list of features and functionality you need. It also includes essentially side by side charts of all the major plugins broken down by feature with literally a tick for the ones that do cross so you can sit and compare them all side by side and find which plugins are best for you. A lot of our audience and community find that very, very helpful to narrow things down. That would get you down to probably two or three potential choices, and then my recommendation from there is to test out their customer support, that should be a crucial thing you do before you buy a license. You want to make sure that if you have a problem, they’re going to respond to you. Send a couple of messages to the support team if you’re having difficulty choosing between one or two plugins, see which of them are the best for you to work with.

Good advice. Best practices for membership site? What would be some of the best tips that you would offer people?

I would say one of the biggest differentiators and the things that most of a problem adapting to with a membership versus other types of products is just how important retention strategy is. If you’re current project is with clients, you’re launching courses selling products, usually the sale is the end goal, it’s the finish line. With a membership, it’s the starting pistol. Your work’s just beginning when you get that first monthly payment. You need to have a strategy in place for how you’re going to get that second payment, a third payment, that 47th payment. You need to have a solid retention strategy. You don’t want to have a leaky bucket where you’re constantly pouring in new customers at the top and all of your effort and energy is going into acquisition, then you’re wondering why the hell it’s never full because you don’t have anything in place to keep people subscribed long term. The four tips for member retention, the first thing is that you get your on-boarding right. Member retention starts day one, minute one, the second someone joins your site, clock is ticking. You need to make sure you’re helping your members get off to the best possible start, you’re getting them into the habit of logging in, consuming your content, diving into the forum. Use things like product tours, give people a checklist of five or six key actions to take within their first week, engage with them, send them out emails, show them a little on site prompt. Those four days, weeks, or months are crucial.

This is where that Intercom software comes…

Yeah, Intercom is great for that, is really great for that. You can’t rely on just email. Get a good mix of that going on, some people even arrange induction calls. Maybe twice a month, anybody who’s joined in that two week period, they’ll get them on Zoom or a Google Hangout or YouTube Live or whatever it’s called these days. They’ll go through a little bit of a spiel, maybe they’ll get material of the website in real time, they’ll answer any questions, they’ll get to know what is the main thing you want to focus on now. Okay, let’s take it this side of things. You can automate this stuff, we have new member questionnaire that helps us to point to the right kind of content. Just need to think about all that initial period. Tip one is get your on-boarding right, second is remembering that a membership is a value exchange. If you want people to pay you on an ongoing basis, you’ve got to deliver value on an ongoing basis. That doesn’t mean just throwing more content at people, bombarding them with course after course. It just means showing up, serving a community, answering their questions, dealing with enquiries or complaints in a timely manner. Welcoming new members, and as we touched on earlier, helping people get results they joined your site to achieve. You got to provide that value to retain your members. Tip three is making sure you’ve got a community. It’s a pretty well known phrase, it’s a bit cliche, where people come for the content, they’ll stay for the community. That’s definitely true of memberships. Having a discussion forum or a Facebook group gives your membership a stickability factor that gives people hoops to subscribe long after they’re done with your content. My fourth tip is to implement a dunning process. For anyone who doesn’t know dunning, it’s the name of the process given to handling failed subscription payments. A lot of people worry about cancellations from people who just don’t enjoy what they bought or whatever. A large percent of people who cancel cancel out because their payments have failed too many times because of billing issues. Expired cards, bounced payments, all that sort of stuff. You need to make sure you’ve got a dunning process to handle that in an automated function. Some plugins like Member Press have this built in. If someone’s payment fails, it will automatically follow up with them or prompt them to update their card deals and so on. They’ve got services like Bare Metrics, Profit Well, stunning.co is another one. They have dunning features that will chase up those failed payments as well, it can make a huge, huge difference for retention and make sure that you’re not losing numbers just because you’re not following up on failed payments. Biggest, biggest thing is retention, hopefully those four things will point in the right direction.

That’s awesome. I know if you have your card expire and it’s the same number but a new expiration date, at least for a long period of time, you can still run that card and it’ll still work even with the old expiration date.

Yeah. That’s the thing. What typically happens when you get a new card, you maybe have top of mind a list of websites or services you use, you’ll go and update Amazon or you’ll update it in your hosting account, the sort of stuff that is top of mind. But if your payments aren’t bouncing because of exactly what you just said there because you have that grace period, if your payment hasn’t bounced and as far as you’re concerned you’ve updated the details everywhere, then it could be two or three months before your payments start failing out for the membership. Then, as someone’s payment fails, you’re relying on them taking action, remembering to come back and change and all that sort of stuff. You need to have some sort of dunning to keep on their case a little bit and to notify them. A good dunning service will tell people in advance, your card is going to expire in a months’ time, click here to update it to make sure you don’t lose access. It’s far easier to solve this issue, prevent it, than it is to try and patch it up after the fact.

You said Member Press has functionality for dunning.

It does.

What about Memberium?

You got me there, I’m not sure if it does. I’m not 100% sure. If it doesn’t, David, if you’re listening, add this functionality in if it doesn’t already and don’t hurt me if you already have it and I just forgotten. If your plugin doesn’t have dunning, then stunning.co I think is a platform that is solely for dunning, that’s kind of all they do. Companies like Bare Metrics and Profit Well which are their best SaaS analytics platforms, both part of what they do is provide a dunning service as well. That’s Bare Metrics, Profit Well, or stunning.co.

Awesome. Let’s say that you’re having trouble getting your emails delivered. Even if you’re using InfusionSoft, you’ll get some percentage of emails going out that just won’t get through. Especially if you’re trying to get people to update their card details or to renew their membership or whatever and you’re not getting through to their email, like hey, I’ve seen you had no activity and we’ve got some really cool stuff, please come back, and they’re not ever seeing that email, that’s a big problem. What do you recommend then?

This is where we start to hit the limitations of what you can do with fully online tools. Unless you are running a deliberately small scale membership where it’s feasible for you to potentially pick up the phone and call your customers or you’re running a large scale one that affords you the resources to have a team in place who can pick up the phone and call any lapsing members, any members who are slipping away in terms of engagement. It’s kind of those two extremes. You can certainly, within something if you’re using InfusionSoft for example or Active Campaign, or Ontraport, you can, as part of the process stop monitors and flags up slipping engagement, have a message sent to you on email saying, “So you know this person hasn’t logged in in 30 days.” Then, you can reach out personally. It’s not scaleable, I don’t remember who says this but sometimes you do need to do things that don’t scale. It’s down to you as to whether you have the capacity to do it. But yeah, this is certainly when you start hitting brick walls of what technology can do for you. Something we’re experimenting with at the moment where everybody is trying out Facebook Bots for sales and lead gen. We’re playing around with stuff on the engagement and the retention front for our members. We’re using Facebook Bots to deliver updates about content for example, that’s been recently released into the membership. It’s an opt in, we give people the ability to request that information. Certainly, something we’re going to look at as a next stage is whether it’s feasible to send engagement prompts to Facebook Bots. If there are tech channels to get to people, then certainly look for ways to tap into that. Otherwise, it’s going to come down to old fashioned picking up the phone and yeah. The feasibility of that for you is very much going to depend on your own particular set up because it’s going to be very hard to scale that.

What are you using for your messenger bot software? Are you using ManyChat?

We are. I’ve had to resist the urge to really pop the cork on ManyChat, I’ve stayed away from it. My other half is the less techie one, although she is the one with the encyclopedic knowledge of membership plugins despite me being the one with the development background. She’s taken charge of setting up ManyChat because it’s a rabbit hole that I’m not sure I’ll be able to pull myself out of once I get in there because it’s very cool what you can do in there.

Yeah, kind of like choose your own adventure book. You might not finish for a long time because you want to try every single permutation.


What about text messaging, are you a fan of using that as a way to reach out as well?

Honestly, it’s not something we’ve done too much of. I think part of that might actually be because we’re in the UK. I don’t know if that’s a little subconscious thing in the back of my brain because a lot of these services that will send out text messages don’t do in the UK. They probably do now but certainly going back a few years. Maybe that’s why we never dug into it, absolutely. If that’s a channel and you have the numbers and you have the permission to message people, then that’s certainly something that you would throw into the mix. What I would say with that is there’s a couple of wrinkles there. First and foremost, it’s another field, it’s more data to ask from people when they sign up that maybe they’re going to think, “Why the hell does someone need my phone number for a website I’m never going to interact with online?” Depends on the nature of the registration process you have and whether there’s going to be any disconnect with your audience, that’s going to make them question why you’re asking for this info. I think as well the relationship that you have with them and whether they’re going to see it as a violation of what they would expect from you if you start sending them text messages. Another factor is that I’m not sure whether Ontraport does the text messaging but I think InfusionSoft is one of the only ones that has it built in as something you can do. The limited capacity for comparable systems to do it has probably taken it off the radar a little. If it’s a channel at your disposal, yeah, by all means. You don’t want to be that needy boyfriend or girlfriend who’s constantly asking what you’re doing, why haven’t you looked at my website, you don’t wanna be that guy. You have to do this stuff in moderation.

You don’t want to be that needy boyfriend or girlfriend who’s constantly asking what you’re doing, why haven’t you looked at my website, you don’t wanna be that guy. You have to do this stuff in moderation.

It might be more scalable than picking up the phone and making phone calls. I use a tool called Twilio for text messaging to remind people to show up for the webinars that they signed up for, that sort of thing.

Yeah, absolutely. I think as well this demand thing requires that intention, it requires that forward thinking to know that you want to be on top of engagement levels, you want to be proactive about the warning signs that somebody may be slipping away. You can get real ninja with this stuff or you can just keep it nice and basic. It’s that forward thinking for you to actually request the phone number when members register in the knowledge that that is something that’s going to make life easier in six months time where you may need to give them a little bit of a nudge.

Last question, I know we’re short on time here. What is your favorite or what are your favorite episodes of The Membership Guys podcast and why?

My favorite, personally, I did an episode about why I don’t like the closed door model, which I had my little bit of a rant about earlier. I personally like that one because memberships aren’t an emotional topic, but I got a little bit heated up during that one. I quite like that and the reaction and the response and the feedback. We’re not strictly an interview show, we do occasional interviews. I would say I’ve got a great couple of episodes with Chris Ducker from youpreneur.com that I’ve really enjoyed. Very much enjoyed interviewing Amy Porterfield because I love Amy.

Yeah, Amy’s great.

Yeah, I just absolutely love Amy. There’s one with Luria Petrucci from Live Streaming Pros that I really enjoyed as well. I think those interviews and my one on the close door strategy are particular favorites, I would say.

Awesome. We’ll include links to those episodes in the show notes as well as all the other tools and software that we talked about in this episode in the show notes on marketingspeak.com. Where should folks go to on the web or through traditional, plain old telephone or whatever, to work with you. I know it’s not on a one on one basis, you don’t do that anymore, but if they want to work with you in a group capacity, a part of your own membership site, be part of your community, where would you direct them to?

We always try to make people start out with themembershipguys.com, that’s where we blog and we podcast and we got lots of free resources. That’s going to tell you whether we are people you want to be around for 3 months, 6 months, 12 months inside a membership. I’d much rather you find out that you can’t stand the sound of my voice and you don’t like the way that we write before you join our membership site. Check out themembershipguys.com, lots of free awesome resources in there. We also have a free Facebook group, if you go to talkmemberships.com, punch that into the browser, that will redirect you to the Facebook group. We’ve got about 6,000 membership site owners in there. And then when you want to kick into that next gear with your membership plans, membersiteacademy.com is the place to be for that. That’s where we do our best stuff and that’s where myself and my partner, Callie [01:02:08], we’re in there day in day out helping hundreds or thousands of membership site owners each and every day.

Awesome. Thank you so much, Mike, this was a real pleasure and honor to have you on my show and for us to geek out on membership sites. Listeners, go ahead and take the next step and apply some of the stuff that you’ve learned, employ that recurring revenue model so that you’re not constantly chasing after the next deal. We’ll catch you on the next episode of Marketing Speak, this is your host Stephan Spencer signing off.

Important Links:

Your Checklist of Actions to Take

☑ Build my membership site by targeting and audience with a recurring need and offer them solutions through a subscription.

☑ Think of ways to incorporate a membership site into my business. It doesn’t have to be an entire course. It can also be an area for added resources and support that can make my customers feel special.

☑ Focus on the three C’s before I create my own membership site. The three C’s are content, coaching and community.

☑ Convince people to subscribe to my membership program by providing a lot of value. Make the content simple to keep it from being intimidating.

☑ Be consistent with my service to retain membership subscriptions.

☑ Automate as much as I can in terms of communication and processes. Make my members aware of my presence by responding to their personal queries in a timely manner.

☑ Never fool my prospects by saying something that isn’t true. I have to be very honest especially since it’s harder to gain trust online.

☑ Hire a developer who is knowledgeable in creating membership sites and can help me decide the right plugins, creation and maintenance tools.

☑ Choose the best plugins by going to https://www.themembershipguys.com/plugincomparison/

☑ Tune in to The Membership Guys podcast to get the latest updates and tips on how to
build a rockstar membership site.

About Mike Morrison

Mike Morrison is one half of The Membership Guys, and along with his partner Callie Willows has spent years guiding the growth of membership businesses and online communities. Now they run Member Site Academy, where they teach entrepreneurs the skills and strategies they need to build and grow their own successful membership website.

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